Social Scenes

Let’s Discuss — The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anthony Patch with no record of achievement, without courage, without strength to be satisfied with truth when it was given him. Oh, he was a pretentious fool, making careers out of cocktails and meanwhile regretting, weakly and secretly, the collapse of an insufficient and wretched idealism (Location 593)

As a whole, I didn’t really care for The Beautiful and Damned, but there were some good parts. Primarily Anthony’s philosophical and sometimes poetic musings, many of which I didn’t always agree with. Fitzgerald consistently underlines the concept of a generation with displaced senses of entitlement and lack of direction.

Although Anthony Patch is basically a waste, he’s not totally unlikeable. He experiences bouts of depression, insecurity, nervousness, etc.  And then he meets Gloria Gilbert…Gloria is the quintessence of beauty and a society girl. If she’s “ugly” in any way, it’s her excessive selfishness and over-the-top vanity. In fact, Fitzgerald is heavy-handed with the theme of beauty. You’ll read this at the beginning of the novel:

The Voice: Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying “Do this!” and “Do that!” and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women…

Beauty: But this can’t be true! I can understand of course, their obedience to women of charm—but to fat women? To bony women? To women with scrawny cheeks? (Location 298)

Together Anthony and Gloria are almost always in a state of inebriation. Drunk off their egos and too proud to admit their faults. They’re that really annoying couple who argue all the time but never break up. They enable each other’s bad habits and pretend all is well in front of their friends. It gets to a point where it only makes sense they would marry.

They go on blowing money they don’t have, throwing parties, refusing to do anything to earn a living. And all this happens in anticipation of the death of Anthony’s grandfather, Adam Patch, a very rich man whose name carries weight in high society. There is a point in the novel where Anthony joins the military and is separated from Gloria for a time. The military experience seems to purge him of the idle poison…for a little while anyways. But eventually Anthony and Gloria reconnect and settle back into their old ways. And because of their silliness and laziness, they lose the weak identities they’ve established for themselves while waiting for the inheritance money. Although I would also argue they never had a true identity, just an ideal and beauty. Fittingly they aren’t left a dime in the will.

I guess the moral of the story is: find something to do, even when it seems like there’s nothing to do because there’s always something to do, and you’ll be a better person for doing it.

Especially since the alternative is getting piss drunk every day, having no money and arguing with your spouse all the time…yeah that sounds about right.

Let’s Discuss — The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

But I thought everybody was supposed to be considered innocent until they were proved guilty and if there was any reasonable doubt–

That’s for juries, not detectives. You find the guy you think did the murder and you slam him in the can and let everybody know you think he’s guilty and put his picture all over newspapers, and the District Attorney builds up the best theory he can on what information you’ve got […] come in and tell you things about him and presently you’ve got him sitting on the electric chair (195)

In speakeasies and small social gatherings centered around alcohol, conversation is placed on hold by the blur of drinks, playful banter and hints of sexual innuendo.  Nick and Nora Charles, our investigative couple are “too cool” for the shenanigans they encounter. Their back-and-forth is cute, urbane and reasonably detached from the acquaintances that bring drama to their doorstep.

When Nick (former detective) and Nora (his wife) get mixed up with the disappearance of a man named Wynant and the murder of his assistant, Nick wants nothing to do with it. This attitude permeates the pages.  It’s almost overpowering. Nick doesn’t appear to give a damn–so why should the reader?

The characters and their interactions–that’s why!

The other characters (almost all are suspects) are solid. Common sense gained from other forms of crime fiction, more likely than not derived from Hammett’s prose, tells the reader the estranged, bitter and broke ex-wife would be the obvious perpetrator. But it’s too obvious. It’s not her. Mimi is so snide and phony it’s entertaining. Her coquettish, aggressive, borderline violent interactions with Nick are worth the read.

The same applies to Gilbert, Mimi’s son–what a weirdo! His obsessions are peculiar but believable. Nick indulges his forensic fascinations and they establish a bond. Gilbert is written so the reader believes he’s up to no good, and he’ll either be a detective or an infamous wrongdoer one day.

“When the murders are committed by mathematicians,” I said, “you can solve them by mathematics. Most of them aren’t and this one wasn’t.” (195)

But going back to the plot, it’s nothing special. More thought is put into portraying intricacies of detective instinct than solving the murder case. However, it’s clear Hammett’s work is an original.